Trinidad and Tobago offer a wide variety of souvenirs and products to suit every budget, from woven palm hats to expensive jewellery in Port of Spain’s malls. Local artists create fine woodcarvings, shell and bead jewellery, paintings and beaten copper pieces, as well as lovely leather sandals. T&T also produces great music and has exceptionally talented writers – purchasing a few books and CDs will enable you to carry a little local culture back home.
Port of Spain and San Fernando have Trinidad’s widest variety of shops, but there’s a lot less on offer in Tobago, where you should head for Lowlands Mall or central Scarborough. Opening hours are generally Monday to Friday 8am to 5.30pm and Saturday 8am to 5pm; malls are usually open from 10am until 8 or 9pm, while supermarkets open 8am–8pm daily. Opening times are often variable, depending on the individual shop and mood of the shopkeeper.
Prices are generally higher in Tobago than in Trinidad. Paintings and woodcarvings may seem expensive in comparison with other local produce, but these works of art are unique and prices are far lower than in art galleries back home. For bargains, check out streetside vendors and small backstreet shops – souvenir shops, boutiques and malls have higher prices. Bargaining is conducted to a certain extent with street and beach vendors, but not in shops.
T&T’s rich musical culture has spawned an astonishing variety of styles – steel pan, calypso, soca, rapso, chutney, dub and parang – and produced many marvellous songs with strong lyrics and powerful rhythms. The best places to buy music are in Trinidad: in Port of Spain try Crosby’s, at 54 Western Main Rd in St James, or Rhyner’s, 54 Prince St (wrhyners.com), while roadside vendors sell inexpensive pirate copies of popular reggae and soca tracks. In Tobago, try the stalls lining Wilson and Milford roads in Scarborough.
Local book stores are usually full of US titles and schoolbooks, though there are some decent stores in Port of Spain. Many Trinbagonian authors are published in Britain and the US, however, so if you want to get a taste of T&T’s culture it may be best to buy their work before you come.
T&T has some of the best-quality cocoa in the world, and chocolate made locally from Trinitario fine flavour beans is a burgeoning industry in T&T. In Trinidad, you can buy exquisite chocolates by Cocobel from the workshop and a couple of gourmet shops, while Soular’s delicious bars, nibs and cocoa powder (as well as their delectable muffin mix and dried bananas) are available at Tobago’s Shore Things and at the M Store at Piarco Airport. The Tobago Cocoa Estate’s award-winning bars are available only at the estate, though their cocoa balls are more widely available, as are other brands. These are solid spheres or sticks of cocoa and spices, which you grate and boil up with milk and sugar to make traditional chocolate tea. Local coffee, which comes in a variety of flavours such as coconut and rum, can be bought in supermarkets and souvenir shops.
It’s said that the reason the island’s White Oak rum is not well known worldwide is because the locals keep it to themselves and consume the total production. Trinidad’s famous Angostura Brewery (see Witco Desperadoes) produces a wide range of excellent rum as well as their ever-popular bitters, all readily available in shops throughout the islands. Both airports in Trinidad and Tobago have a selection of duty-free goods, though prices at Piarco in Trinidad are lower.
Arts and craftsLocally made arts, crafts and unusual souvenirs, like carved calabashes, woven palm grasshoppers, shell jewellery and carved driftwood, are usually sold on or near the more popular beaches and in souvenir shops. Ornate carvings are also sold in art galleries and at individual stalls that occasionally appear on country roads. The road- and beach-side stalls are run by local craftspeople and artists who sell good-quality handmade goods at reasonable prices. You’ll often see Rastafarians selling handmade leather sandals from stalls or on the street – try Port of Spain’s Independence Square.
In Tobago, the widest variety is sold at the huts adjacent to Store Bay Beach, but you’ll get better deals in Scarborough, at the vendors’ mall and the stalls that line Milford and Wilson roads around the market square.
In order to protect local endangered animals, avoid buying products made from turtle shell, black coral, conch or bird feathers.